Posts Tagged ‘Ira Siegel’

I mostly deal with copyright trolls that actually file lawsuits and leverage population’s natural fear of the court system (in addition, porn trolls such as Lipscomb/Malibu Media take advantage of the societal stigma attached to pornography).

Robert Steele
Rightscorp’s boss
Robert Steele

An anti-piracy outfit Rightscorp, Inc. is a slightly different troll species. It does not file lawsuits against individuals (yet?), it does not demand thousands from alleged file-sharers. Instead, it sends myriad notices to ISPs, and many providers match troll-supplied IP addresses to subscribers and forward those notices to them without disclosing the subscribers’ identities to the troll. Rightscorp demands only a nuisance amount — $20 per infringement. Obviously, only the most ignorant and gullible part of the US population rushed to pay, but even if a tiny percentage of recipients pay, it translates to quite nice loot. Metaphorically speaking, Rightsorp is in business of throwing hundreds of thousands pieces of feces against the wall: some do stick.

Forwarding small demands via ISPs is certainly not as bad as “conventional” copyright trolling (yet it is still an extortion-based model that exploits FUD and insanely high statutory rates). The problem is that this year we have been witnessing a very troubling development: while in the past the troll knew only IP addresses of alleged infringers but not their names, now Rightscorp aims at unmasking their targets’ identities. Rightscorp bullies mostly small ISPs by filing “petitions” (like this one) and sends out subpoenas without court leave. The trolls state that ISPs owe them people’s identities, and doing so our “businessmen” simply ignore the case law they don’t like. As Rightscorp’s CEO Christopher Sabec told TorrentFreak,

Christopher Sabec
Rightscorp’s CEO
Christopher Sabec

The [RIAA vs. Verizon] Court case used flawed reasoning in concluding that an ISP such as Verizon is not a ‘Service Provider’ even though it clearly meets the definition laid out in the statute.

The only other US company that adopted this kind of parasitic business model is Ira Siegel’s CEG-TEK, but unlike the latter, Rightscorp is public (NASDAQ: RIHT), yet with capitalization of just a couple of millions and extremely volatile penny stock:

 

“Big” on Twitter

On Friday I was looking at the Rightscorp’s twitter account, and the list of followers (1,150) looked very suspicious.

It is not a secret that in order to boost their perceived significance, some Twitter users buy fake followers in bulk. I tweeted my concern, and Tim Cushing pointed me to a fantastic resource (TwitterAudit) that evaluates how real one’s followers are. The audit confirmed my suspicion. Here is the comparison of the results for @rightscorp and yours truly’s @fightcopytrolls:

 

A company that is trying to boost its significance by artificially inflating the number of its social accounts’ followers is undoubtedly engaged in deception, and since Rightscorp is public, this (admittedly small) fraud may be a SEC’s concern. Or is it not a big deal? I will try to contact the regulators tomorrow to find the answer to this question. Even if it not a big deal from the SEC’s viewpoint, this discovery was still worth publicizing as it confirms one more time that extortion and fraud are siblings.

Related

The story about a copyright troll Terik Hashmi who was caught practicing law without license in Florida was widely covered this week (DieTrollDie, EFF, ArsTechnica, TorrentFreak, Rob Cashman). As a result, the judge put his 27 mass bittorent cases on hold pending investigation.

Many knew that the website of a copyright bully, Copyright Enforcement Group, listed Terik Hashmi’s “Transnational Law Group, P.L.L.C.” as a partner:

CEG Partner List

If you visit this webpage today, you will not find “Transnational Law Group, P.L.L.C.” there anymore. Obviously, the settlement factory rushed to distance itself from an alleged felon (practicing without license in Florida is a 3rd degree felony, and carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and $5,000 fine.) No one in this “business” wants too much attention: trolls dwell in dark corners and are afraid of light (publicity).

The list of partners still includes the following members:

  • Law Offices of Ira Siegel. No introduction necessary. Ira was quiet recently, after judge Maria-Elena James became the last Northern California judge who finally had had enough of trolls and killed his two monstrous cases.
  • The Copyright Law Group, P.L.L.C. It’s also a wide-known troll (or rather a weretroll), Maik Meier. Meier and Hashmi know each other for a long time.
  • Carroll Law Firm. I don’t know anything about this firm. Let me know if you have any interesting information.
  • Law Offices of Marvin Cable. This is a puzzle. Marvin Cable is listed on the EFF Subpoena Defense page (Update 3/23/2012: not anymore), represents Randazza gang’s victims and does not file lawsuits against unnamed Internet users. While being related to a settlement factory does not add to an attorney’s reputation, I wouldn’t categorize him as a troll and leave it between him and his understanding of ethics. Update 3/23/2012: Although I tried to give a benefit of a doubt to the guy, the prospect of quick and easy cash has finally won over dignity. Confirmed: Marvin Cable is a troll.
  • Schulenberg & Schenk. This is a German lawfirm, Guardaley’s co-conspirators in multiple extortion schemes in Germany. A Berlin court found that Guardaley’s IP collection methods are flawed, however it did not prevent Guardaley from extending extortion business to US using various decoys (“IPP”, “Baseprotect” etc.)

CEG’ website was redesigned recently and now looks professional and creates an impression of a reputable company. Obviously, some good designers and marketers were hired using money shaken down from semi-random Internet users. It is still no more than a settlement factory that has automated already inhuman process of sending out hollow threats and scaring innocent (and not-so-innocent) ISP subscribers into paying.

And it all started…

A less known fact: Ira Siegel and his partner Owen Onouye started a trolling business “Hammer Law” back in April 2009. Then, Onouye became one of CEG’s founders and its registered agent. Prior to these events Mr. Onoye served 2.5 years in prison: police caught him with 48 pounds of marijuana and he was convicted in 2005. It took a while for the California Bar to catch up (did they ever hear about the trolls?), but finally Owen Onouye’s license was suspended in August 2011.

SUSPENDED!

The story of Mr. Onouyo’s moral downfall is an interesting read: Onouyo claims that he agreed to be involved in drug delivery because his financial situation was dire. As we know, Ira Siegel’s is in a similar predicament: he filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in 2010. Still… No matter how bad your finances look, improving the situation by turning to questionable methods, whether it is drug trafficking or copyright racket, is always a wrong answer. Karma police does not need court approval to watch inside everyone’s soul.

Update

04/04/2012

Terik Hashmi
Copyright troll Terik Hashmi

There were some events surrounding the consolidated case — all-in-one 27 cases fraudulently filed by Terik Hasmi in Florida: order to show cause why this case shouldn’t be dismissed, Hashmi’s tearful reply, and substitution of disgraced attorney by weretroll Mike Meier. On April 3 Judge Hinkle finally dismisses this case.

Rob Cashman covered this story, and EFF did.

Adult industry’s main news outlet, XBiz, also wrote about this event calling plaintiffs some of the top studios in the adult entertainment. I laughed wondering who are the bottom ones then, and what kinds of predatory assaults on the general public they are capable of (with the little help from some ethically challenged lawyers).

8/7/2012

CEG changed its name to CEG TEK, probably to commemorate TEriK Hashmi.

It was brought to my attention that Mike Meier was sanctioned in the amount of $37,415.00 under 28 U.S.C. § 1927 on 9/20/2011.

Schulenberg & Schenk is not listed as a partner anymore. Matlock Law Group appears instead. Anne-Leith Matlock, a layer from this firm has already started filing mass bittorent cases.

Today magistrate judge Maria-Elena James has put (hopefully) the last nail in the coffin of monstrous p2p infringement lawsuits. She dismissed both of Ira Siegel’s cases in her docket, 13:11-cv-02766 Patrick Collins, Inc. v. Does 1-2590 and 3:11-cv-02770 New Sensations, Inc v. Does 1-1474.

It all started on December 1st, when Judge James ordered Ira Siegel to answer some uncomfortable questions about the case status, because he did not name a single defendant in violation of the 120-day rule. Almost immediately after that she issued another order, this time questioning the Court’s jurisdiction over the majority of putative defendants. Remembering how Ira Siegel disregarded judge Zimmerman’s order to disclose how much money he extorted from Does, I did not have any illusion that Mr. Siegel would comply this time, so it was no surprise when instead of

  • Conducting a search to obtain geographic information about the IP Addresses listed in its Complaint and thereafter provide the Court with the location for each IP Address¹;
  • Voluntarily dismiss without prejudice out-of-jurisdiction defendants (or to show good cause as to why it has a good faith belief that jurisdiction exists and venue is proper as to each individual Doe Defendant).

 

Ira Siegel had audacity to ask the Court

  • To allow the ISPs to comply with the subpoenas;
  • To allow Plaintiff and those potential Doe defendants who desire to settle their claims to reach settlements;
  • To postpone any requirements that Plaintiff name and/or dismiss any potential Doe defendants until February 20, 2012.

Judge James was rightfully angry. She did not swallow Ira’s insult to her intelligence and dismissed both cases outright:

After this order, as well as other judge’s ones, it is not conceivable that any troll would attempt to lump together IP addresses from all over the USA, at least in the Northern District of California.

What next?

Rob Cashman expects Ira Siegel to follow John Steele’s path and file smaller cases in other states using proxy law firms. I second this prediction.

Lumping together thousands of Does, many of whom are innocent, will flourish in Florida state courts until the “pure bill of discovery” loophole is patched, The era of monstrous cross-jurisdiction shake-down lawsuits in federal courts is likely over.

Our fight is far from being over. Trolls adapt by filing smaller cases in proper jurisdictions, we should adapt too. Although those smaller cases enable trolls to avoid jurisdiction and (to some extent) joinder issues, the basic ethical flaw has not changed: even cases against carefully picked single defendants are still nothing more than extortion.


¹ Update: Actually Ira Siegel has provided this information.

The following was initially meant to be an update to my post about a series of painful punches Ira Siegel received from judge Maria-Elena James, but I already wrote four updates — seems that the cases assigned to Maria-Elena James will be among the key cases in the history of the rise and fall of US copyright trolls.

An advocacy group Digital Rights Foundation filed an amicus curiae brief in the Patrick Collins v. Does 1-2,590 case. The main point of this brief is the fact that Ira Siegel (just like many other trolls) basically deceived the Court. “Deception” is not only telling explicit lies, but also concealing important relevant information that most likely would alter judges’ decisions.

According to this brief, Ira Siegel withheld information about the geographic location of putative defendants. It proves beyond any doubt that Mr. Siegel knew that the majority of IP addresses his sleazy “forensic” enterprise had collected were outside of the Court jurisdiction.

Indeed, it is not plausible that plaintiff was honestly ignorant about the fact that an IP address can be mapped to a location with astonishing accuracy. Almost a year ago I wrote in my motion (which was ignored at that time):

Plaintiff’s Counsel claims (Docket 26, p.6, line 9¹) that if an IP address is dynamic, the location of the subscriber can’t be determined.

I believe Mr. Sperlein knows the locations, but decided not to disclose his findings in his complaint because the location distribution (almost two thirds of IP addresses are outside California) would definitely raise jurisdiction questions. If this is the case, Plaintiff’s Counsel deliberately concealed important information from the Court. Given that Plaintiff’s goal is threatening unsophisticated Does regardless of their locations in order to coerce settlements, this concealment makes much sense to Plaintiff, but is obviously unethical.

Kudos to guys from Digital Rights Foundation! They say that

Amicus also intends on filing briefs with other Courts involving mass Does to demonstrate and present such facts that in some cases, not even 1% of Does originate within the state of where the civil action complaint was filed.

Music to my ears.


¹[Gill Sperlein] “In the first instance, the anonymous filer has not provided evidence that one can accurately determine the location of an ip address.”

Remember how judge Zimmerman asked troll Ira Siegel uncomfortable (for a troll) questions? Siegel refused to answer those questions: I was surprised and disappointed that Judge Zimmerman did not slap the troll with sanctions for such a blatant disobedience.

Today Maria-Elena James, a judge from San Francisco, ordered Ira Siegel to answer different but still uncomfortable (for a troll) questions. She asked him to provide the following information:

  1. Each Doe Defendant listed separately by number and IP address;
  2. The Doe Defendant’s ISP;
  3. The date on which Plaintiff served the order granting discovery on the ISP;
  4. The date on which the ISP served the subpoena on the Doe Defendant;
  5. Whether the ISP has provided the Doe Defendant’s identifying information and, if provided, the date on which it was provided to Plaintiff;
  6. If Plaintiff has obtained the Doe Defendant’s identifying information, an explanation as to why the defendant has not been named and why no proof of service has been filed, as well as why the
  7. Court should not dismiss the defendant pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m); and
  8. If Plaintiff has obtained the Doe Defendant’s identifying information and the location is outside of the Northern District of California, why the Court should not dismiss the Doe Defendant for lack of jurisdiction and/or improper venue.


Magistrate judge
Maria-Elena James

So far judge Maria-Elena James has been denying each and every motion to quash or dismiss the subpoena.

She is in the camp of judges that agree with trolls that joinder is proper, but she seemingly did not make up her mind about the jurisdiction issue, although she has hinted that once named, a defendant will be able to contest the personal jurisdiction successfully.

I have mixed feelings about Maria-Elena James, and it’s the case not only with me, but also with many attorneys who worked with her previously. I believe that Maria-Elena James is a polite, yet indecisive judge, she is afraid of doing something unconventional even if there is no established case law for mass copyright infringement cases, so even though it is clear that copyright trolls will inevitably fall miserably earlier or later, don’t expect judge James to be at the forefront of the war against this kind of lawsuit abuse. Nonetheless, her last order is encouraging. She indicated that she understands what’s going on with all these mass p2p lawsuits, but again, she is reluctant to voice her disapproval of trolls and to call trolls’ methods as they are supposed to be called: extortion.

Ira Siegel is given 7 days to reply. Will he show his disrespect to the Court once again?

Update

Maria-Elena James issued a similar order in another, nearly identical, Ira Siegel’s case, New Sensations, Inc v. Does 1 – 1474.

What’s interesting about this case, is that one of the motions to quash the subpoena (Document 60, 11/28/11) is filed by Jason Sweet, an attorney from Booth Sweet, LLP — the guys who currently litigate a class action lawsuit against DGW, the father of all US copyright trolls. I admire these guys — intelligent, humble and artsy. Jason worked as a writer for a decade, and it shows: the motion is extremely easy to read, yet it is highly professional from the legal standpoint. I’m 90% sure that this rather surprising Maria-Elena James’s order is triggered by Jason Sweet’s motion, although the motion itself was denied using the same unconvincing, clueless template.

I see judge’s order as a face-saving move: granting a motion just because it was filed by an attorney, while denying pro se motions, would be wrong. And this way, while all the motions were denied, the order language suggests that all out-of-district defendants (and maybe each and every one — if Ira Siegel disregards the order) will be dismissed soon.

Update 2

12/02/11

It seems that Maria-Elena James has ordered not just Ira Siegel to answer these tough (for a troll) questions, but each and every troll, whose case was assigned to her. This is very-very good. Steele bragged in the comments section today (this is not an unusual behavior for an insecure person), but I don’t know if he was aware that his cases are affected as well, for example this one.

Update 3

12/07/11

So… We have an order today. No comments necessary. Enjoy:

Update 4

12/08/11

Ira Siegel attempted to amend the order’s language, but his application was denied. Mr. Siegel suggested adding a draft of the notice he would send to putative defendants, and he couldn’t avoid including some indirect threats.

‘A letter offering you an opportunity to settle your alleged liability in connection with the above-identified case was previously sent to you.

‘Since then, the Court in this case has issued an Order regarding its concern regarding jurisdiction and venue issues. A copy of that Order is included with this letter. A number of Doe defendants, perhaps including you, may be dismissed without prejudice from this case. Until the Court decides those jurisdiction and venue issues or until the Doe number associated with you is dismissed without prejudice from this case, whichever occurs first, you are not required to do anything.

‘However, you may still determine that it is in your best interests to resolve this matter by settlement now. You, of course, may consult with your own attorney.

‘In any event, if you decide that you do not want to settle at this time, we repeat that you are not required to do anything until the Court decides those jurisdiction and venue issues or until the Doe number associated with you is dismissed without prejudice from this case, whichever occurs first.

Asking a judge to add the spirit of an extortion letter (“However, you may still determine that it is in your best interests to resolve this matter by settlement now”) to a court order, so it would look like the judge herself said those words, is an insult to judges’ intelligence and to the Court. That’s my opinion.


Magistrate judge
Bernard Zimmerman

As expected by many, judge Zimmerman has practically dismissed (all the Does except one were severed) the “On the Cheap v. Does 1-5011” case filed by copyright troll Ira Siegel last year. Although the case was dismissed on the grounds of improper joinder and wrong jurisdiction, judge Zimmerman went much further questioning the entire extortion-like “business model”.

The entire ruling is amazing, not a single sentence is boring. Must read for everyone who has even slightest interest in these mass extortion-like cases (especially for the trolls!). I don’t believe that judge Zimmerman has read my blog (though it is not impossible since he is aware of my existence thanks to Mr. Siegel), but this is the first time a judge has commented on the foundation of the problem, and these comments were pretty close to my own opinions and the views of my brothers-in-arms. Although many injustices we’ve been discussing have not yet been addressed by judges, we are getting there, no doubt.

Please read the entire document, it is worth your time. Trust me.

Priceless.

(See the analysis by Rob Cashman)

In my previous post I wrote about the surprising order from judge Zimmerman to disclose the total amount collected via settlements. Finally the reply was filed. Although it does not address questions in the same straight no-nonsense way as they were asked, it talks a lot about… this blog!

Have you ever heard about the Streisand Effect, Mr. Siegel? The sole reason of my fight is to make sure my (and other victims’) side of the story is heard by judges, not to influence them, but to make sure their decisions are fair and balanced. Now I have a huge helping hand from the least expected player: a troll! Thank you Mr. Siegel! Given the significance of this help, I even forgive you for the veiled threats you’ve extended towards me. I’m immune against threats, you should have known it if you read this blog carefully.

Did you? Or, yes, you did: the reply was filed one day after the deadline imposed by the court. I have only one explanation to that: reading my blog was such a thrilling experience that Mr. Siegel lost the sense of time. Well, this is quite a plausible explanation since it seems that the sense of time is not the only sense Mr. Siegel had lost.

Update

Since I posted this article, some good analysis of Ira Siegel’s filing had emerged:


Ira M. Siegel

Ira Siegel is one of the most sinister and cynical figures on the copyright trolling arena. He participates in setting up shameless honeypot schemes to profit from alleged copyright infringement and his lawsuits list thousands of Does.

One of the cases this troll filed last year was “On the Cheap v. Does 1-5011”. The latest developments on this case are summarized by E-ttorney at Law™ Stewart Kellar in his blog: he wrote this post in anticipation of today’s hearing by the magistrate judge who had ordered Mr. Siegel to show a cause why his case shouldn’t be dismissed on the grounds of improper joinder and wrong jurisdiction. And today’s hearing was very interesting as expected.

Stewart Kellar did a fantastic job reporting real-time from the courtroom via Twitter — see the copy of the transcript below.

Judge Zimmerman was skeptical and visibly annoyed — not good news for the troll. But the resulting order has exceeded my expectations: among other things, judge Zimmerman has ordered to disclose the total amount plaintiff had received in settlements from any of the doe defendants. The reply is expected by August 31. Plaintiff has also been ordered to provide a copy of any form letter it had sent to any doe defendant offering a settlement:

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time a judge forces a troll to disclose the extortion details. In other words, the troll was ordered to show up in the bright spot of light, and this is great: trolls’ fear of light is even stronger than their lust for money.

Twitter report by @ettorneyatlaw (Stewart Kellar)

Date: August 24, 2011
Case No: C 10-04472 BZ
Case Name: ON THE CHEAP LLC v. DOES 1-5011
Plaintiff Attorney(s): Ira Siegel
Defendant Attorney(s): for Amicus: Corynne McSherry

  • At the On The Cheap Order to Show Cause hearing. Ira Siegel is here as well as Corynne McSherry from EFF. Updates to come.
  • The On the Cheap hearing is starting. Ira Siegel and Corynne McSherry and Julie Samuels from EFF approach.
  • Judge Zimmerman is “concerned about how this case is developing, or not developing.”
  • Zimmerman has read “decisions from other courts that trouble me” and Does that have filed here raise questions.
  • Zimmerman asks the publication date of the registered copyrighted work, methods of distribution.
  • Siegel says film has been sold and is for sale. Judge heard from some of his colleagues that some films have been created just to be shared
  • Siegel “takes umbrage” that Judge Zimmerman is insinuating that this strategy is a front to share films online and sue people for it.
  • Zimmerman points out that a substantial portion of the alleged downloads happened before the copyright registration.
  • Siegel says his clients engaged Copyright Enforcement Group (Dunlap, Grubb, and Weaver) to log the IPs. Clarification: yesterday I mistakenly said Copyright Enforcement Group was Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver (USCG). They are not, DGW is not CEG AFAIK
  • Judge Zimmerman asks why the Northern District was chosen when both Siegel and Client are in LA.
  • Siegel says “based on our math” venue is proper. Zimmerman says, let’s do the math.
  • Siegel reads from a card to insult EFF as wanting “freedom from the tyranny of having to pay for content.”
  • Zimmerman brings up copyrightability of the film and whether it is a Constitutional “useful art.”
  • Siegel says to Judge Zimmerman that he intends to name defendants in October. Zimmerman asks about the form demand letters.
  • Judge wants know how a torrent swarm subjects one to jurisdiction. Siegel says being on a swarm subjects people to jurisdiction nationwide.
  • Siegel says everyone knows that most adult films are made in California. Judge Zimmerman questions that notion.
  • Zimmerman is very skeptical about Siegel wanting to conduct jx discovery on 5011 defendants.
  • Zimmerman is concerned about Siegel holding IP Address holder liable for anything that happens on their account.
  • Siegel says discovery will be complete by September and will name people by October. Will dismiss many outside of California.
  • Zimmerman asks “how would you feel” if you were being accused and don’t know if and when you’ll be named?
  • Siegel compares torrent downloading to “flash mob violence.” Says if people say they didn’t do it but say someone else did, he will sue them
  • Judge Zimmerman asks if any Circuit has ruled on these cases. Ms. McSherry says these cases aren’t filed intending to bring them to trial.
  • Judge Zimmerman says this looks like an effort to extract settlements from as many people as you can. Siegel says “this is not fair.”
  • Zimmerman has a problem saying it is purposeful availment of every state by being on a torrent. He is more troubled by jurisdiction motions
  • Zimmerman has a problem with Siegel’s basis for jurisdiction, wonders aloud whether it is subject to Rule 11.
  • Zimmerman wants to know “what happens now?” Why hasn’t anyone been served? Is concerned about improper joinder, jurisdiction and managing it
  • Zimmerman: “how do I fit 5000 defendants into my courtroom.” Siegel says he’s trying to figure out which ones to sue and where by October.
  • Siegel says “I don’t believe a class action in this type of case is appropriate.” Judge Zimmerman thinks Siegel sees the problems here.
  • Siegel says this Court “should wait to see who we sue come October.” Zimmerman says each defendant is entitled to a 7 hour depo of plaintiff
  • Zimmerman has never had subpoenas that have been out for so long. “Why don’t you just dismiss this case and bring it again when you’re ready
  • Siegel: if we name 100 here, it’s one thing if we name 5000 it’s another. Let us use our wisdom to decide who to sue.
  • Zimmerman has a problem with arguing that joinder and jurisdiction issues are premature. Says Siegel is being oxy-moronic by saying…
  • “The more unmanageable I make these cases, the more time the Court should give me to figure out what I’m going to do.”
  • Judge is bothered by the notion that Courts are being used as collection agencies. Not sure what is “just, speedy, and efficient” about this
  • Siegel says “when we have our list of defendants and the Court sees what we are doing, then they can judge it…
  • Please don’t put any hurdles in front of us yet, wait until October.”
  • Judge Zimmerman takes this case under submission.
  • @Prod_By_BLACKK Judge Zimmerman will Rule sometime [hopefully] before October. He seemed skeptical about the case and could maybe dismiss it